If Handguns Could Talk

Oh, The Stories They Might Tell
74

Dave’s first magnum was a Model 19-3, which has been
all over the map with him. It’s got some mileage on it, but he would never part with it.

This started as a subject line in a Facebook post, accompanied by a photo from somewhere in my past showing a couple of Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolvers. One was a 19-3 with a 6″ barrel and Patridge front sight; the other was a 2 ½” snubbie 19-5, suggesting they might have some interesting stories to tell.

Likewise, if my first .41 Magnum — a Ruger Blackhawk with a 6 ½-inch barrel — could talk, it would likely tell tales of pretty primitive hunting camps in some crummy locations under less-than-pleasant circumstances.

And so, we keep these sidearms not just for their usefulness but for the sake of rekindling memories of places we’ve been and things we’ve done which we will never see or do again.

I was carrying the 6-inch Model 19 the morning when my companion and I encountered a trio of hikers at a trailhead — it was the opening day of the deer season many decades ago. One of the women was from back east and she quickly launched into a rant about hunters and their guns from where she was seated at the base of a stump. This went on for several minutes until she ran out of wind, at which point I mentioned to her that she was sitting in horse manure. Apparently, if you’re used to spreading it, it’s okay to sit in it. Far be it from me to interrupt a lady in the middle of a tirade!

I took this gun on my first trip to Alaska. It traveled with me from Anchorage to Talkeetna, and a couple of days later to Glennallen, just to see the pipeline. I’ve had it in the tent many times when, in the middle of the night, I would be awakened by the sounds of something nosing around my meager camp. There’s something reassuring about having a .357 Magnum in the middle of nowhere, at zero-dark-thirty when the heavy breathing outside is not from a human!

The target visually explains why Dave keeps this
S&W sixgun around. It’s a shooter!

I bought it in the summer of 1973 (my first-ever retail handgun purchase), at the old Warshal’s Sporting Goods in downtown Seattle, which was a far different city than it is today. Warshal’s had one of the finest gun departments in the western U.S., a place famous as an outfitter for hunters headed all over the world. I plunked down a Ben Franklin to put the sixgun on layaway, and a couple of weeks later, on my way to help celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, I detoured back to the store to pay the balance and take it with me.

The guy at the counter knew his stuff about handguns, so we spent several minutes talking about ammunition and leather. In those days, S&W enclosed a cleaning rod and small screwdriver, both of which I still have today.

Right out of the box, it was a good shooter, and although the original deep blue finish has faded in spots, it still puts ‘em where it’s supposed to. The factory action remains very good, and I eventually swapped out the factory grips with a set of Herrett’s stocks, which fit my hand nicely.

It was this purchase which taught me to give each new gun a bath in Hoppe’s No. 9 before ever firing a shot. Clean it, oil it and then head for the range.

This Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum has two bucks to
its credit, and it wears a pair of elk antler grips Dave crafted.
It has shared some of his best memories.

Along Came a Blackhawk

Single-action sixguns have been part of the American fabric for generations, so when Sturm, Ruger & Co. introduced the Blackhawk, I started salivating. Eventually, it turned to drooling, and when I joined in a successful movement to make hunting big game with handguns legal in Washington State, my first move was to order a .41 Magnum with its 6 ½-inch tube and adjustable rear sight.

This met the original minimum handgun requirements for caliber/energy and barrel length (6 inches). I bought a couple of boxes of ammunition, ordered a holster and cartridge belt from the old George Lawrence company in Portland, Oregon and started shooting.

At the time, everybody was buying .44 Magnums. I had to be different, and I’ve never been sorry. It has gone with me to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Southeast Alaska with nary a complaint.

My first buck with this handgun was taken with my wife and two then-young sons as witnesses, coming down a bad excuse for a logging road high in the mountains with my truck locked in 4-wheel drive. The buck jumped off the road into an old clearcut. My rifle was inaccessible, so out came the Blackhawk. No other accolade comes close to “My daddy did that!”

I was camping alone on an elk hunt one year when a carload of seedy-looking gents drove in. I stood up, and as soon as the driver spotted that big iron on my belt, he threw it in reverse and got the heck out of there. Never underestimate the deterrence factor of a large revolver.

Take note: Single-action handgun grips should be flat on the bottom. Dave has never liked, nor understood, why some grip makers bevel the bottom of grips for such sixguns.

I posted a photo of the Blackhawk recently on a Facebook page devoted to .41 Magnum shooters and got this reaction from a guy named Gene Spencer: “Probably the best pistol round that ever existed. Always thought it was a shame that the market seemed fixated on comparing the .41 to the .44 magnum. The consensus was that the .41 came up short. How could so many people not understand that the .41 was never intended to be another .44 Magnum? The intent was to make a better alternative to the .357 Magnum … and at that, the .41 excels.”

Early on, I read Elmer Keith’s tale of how the .41 Magnum was developed and how he shot caribou in Alaska with the first two production models. I’ve killed two deer with this wheelgun, swapped out grips several times (it presently wears a set of elk antler grips I personally made) and wrapped a couple of holsters around it. In a survival situation, it would be one of my “go-to” guns because it is a strong platform, is accurate, and I have never worried about a malfunction.

I mentioned this revolver once to the late Bill Ruger at a SHOT Show several years ago. He just nodded and smiled.

This sixgun was a big reason I got into serious handloading. I like to think Bill and Elmer did me a bigger favor than I was worth, leading to countless pleasant hours at the bench and range, not to mention the days of packing that gun on the trail, or in places where there was no trail. And it put venison in my freezer.

There are other handguns in my safe, and they’ve all got a story or two. But the Model 19 and Blackhawk have been with me more, so they have been in on a lot of my adventures. With any luck, they’ll be in on more.

Can’t Make It Up

Somewhere along the line, the gene pool for some people misses a dose of chlorine, and we wind up with tales like this one out of Santa Rosa, California, involving a man and woman who both ventured into the dark side last month, according to the local police and a report at KRON News.

Cops pulled over the car driven by the male only to discover the following: His driver’s license was suspended, and he had “multiple outstanding warrants” for his arrest. He was also in possession of drug paraphernalia. A search of the vehicle turned up an unloaded .25-caliber Colt pocket pistol in the woman’s possession and a 9mm handgun hidden in the engine compartment. Neither gun was registered. Bad luck for the guy because he is also a convicted felon, and having a gun is a no-no.

This image provided by the Seattle Police Department on its Blotter page shows a pistol recovered from a guy who should not have had it. If you have an outstanding warrant, don’t be packing one of these!

This led to the police getting a search warrant, where they found another 9mm pistol, which was also unregistered and only added to the man’s legal troubles. The woman was arrested on gun charges, too.

Of course, California isn’t the only place with knuckleheads. Leap north to Seattle, where the police encountered another couple linked to a stolen car. The 37-year-old man and 30-year-old woman were dining in a nearby restaurant. She apparently was the driver, while he was just an unlucky guy with outstanding warrants and a handgun concealed on his person.

Now, get this: The warrant was for unlawful possession of a firearm, according to the Seattle Police Blotter, a habit this fellow apparently cannot break. If this guy’s gun could talk, it might have an interesting story as well. By its mere presence, it will testify against the fellow who had it.

What makes them do it? Tell me, and we’ll both know.

Yes, I Missed SHOT

I missed this year’s SHOT Show, and my readers deserve an explanation. I was having surgery for a recurring problem that first showed up back in late 2019.

It is never pleasant to sit out the SHOT Show, where I get the lowdown on new guns and gears to share with you, and trust me, recovering from surgery isn’t terribly fun, either.

Hopefully, the third time will be a charm for me, and I won’t have to mess with this ever again. Thanks to all the folks who messaged me with “get well fast” wishes. Stay safe and shoot straight.

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